c3fyn (c3fyn) wrote in misfitpedagogy,

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Why I hate Literary Criticism...

from Dracula's Crypt by Joseph Valente:

Far from simply affirming or apologizing for the femininity of his own Irishness, as Glover contends, Stoker's writing unfolds the gendered conflicts implicit in that distinctice Irishness, that amalgam of Anglo and Celtic adherences, and, in consequence, winds up troubling the normative disjunction of masculinity and femininity far more dramatically than the standard colonial inversion or exaggeration of these categories generally permits.

Granted, specialists use specialist vocabulary, but honestly, I still mostly get this intense urge to shout "Wanker!" when I read this stuff. I mean...so often these writers seem primarily in love with their massive latinate vocabulary, and their obscuring, torturous syntax. Aside from the fact, I really get tired of such theorizing--it seems so far removed from the actual text, so much a matter of pure conjecture, really, that I feel I'm witnessing one of those infamous battles attributed to medieval scholars.

For instance: In this case, there is definitely something of interest in Stoker's Anglo-Irish origins which can shed light on his writing. No doubts here. Yes, there is a "discursive" framework which bears scrutiny--muscular Christianity, the cult of masculinity, all that, yes. But at the same time...to psychoanalyze an absent person from their writing, and as if they were a modern person is to me the utter height of academic wankery.

Valente goes on and on about hysteria, the hyper-masculine fronts put up by Harker, Godalming, Van Helsing, and Seward, and tries to make it part of this deep-seated "psychosocial anxiety" Stoker had over his own masculinity. Sure, possibly, whatever. But...what about the simple fact that Count Dracula is a MONSTER? He's a bona fide monster, supernatural-curse-havin', immortal, blood-drinkin', science-defyin' MONSTER. Who wouldn't be hysterical? Especially in the Victorian era, with its no-nonsense, it's-all-science-or-it's-rubbish ideologies? Really. I'd be pretty freakin' hysterical if I came upon a honest-to-Vlad vampire, too. In this light, all the barely-contained hysteria demonstrated by the characters in Dracula is entirely appropriate. And, sure, their manhood is threatened--the Count is stronger, faster, has supernatural abilities, is immeasurably old, etc, etc. And yes, in the Victorian period, masculinity was a Big Deal--even bigger-a-deal than it is in the U.S. of A. currently, which is saying something.

I dunno. I still find myself wanting to wait for Valente to pause for breath and say:

Uh...it's a monster, dude.

addendum: teaching-related musings

I have always had a problem with this approach to literature. It often seems to me to suck the life right oout of things for most folks. One of the reasons why I quit Univeristy of Kansas the first time around was that I felt like immersing myself in this kind of thing was the height of pointlessness, a waste of my time on the planet. I still, by and large, feel that way, about most literary criticism. I realize that this means I am challenging everything the discipline of English Literarure uses to validate itself in the university system...but I can't help it. When I go to try to teach this sort of thing to students, I feel I am doing them a disservice. And it's not like I'm not speaking as a highly-motivated lover of literature for it's own sake, either. I suppose I feel that there are better and more interesting (and thus fruitful) ways to "dig" at texts for meaning. Once we've wandered off in to such heavy theorizing, I frequently fail to see its relevance to anything beyond the maintenance of salary for Ph.D.'s. I don't know what to do with this feeling. It's partly why I didn't take the literature track in the Master's program.

What say the teachers?

Tags: literature
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